Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Marist Nearly Rocks Women's Hoop World

My local cable outlet in the Albany, N.Y., area did not carry last night's Marist-Duke women's NCAA tournament game, but your blogging hoopscribe listened in to the radio broadcast and did get a view via a few televised "cut-ins."

The thought here, based on all of that, is Marist showed once again that it should be considered among the better teams not only at the mid-major level but at any level; that a team can be more the sum of its individual parts.

Marist threw a big-time scare into a Duke team ranked in the top five or six nationally all season, holding an 11-point lead midway through the second half before the Blue Devils could rally for a 71-66 victory to earn a berth in the event's Sweet 16 round.

The Red Foxes played with one of the women's game's best teams despite the loss of MAAC Player of the Year senior guard Erica Allenspach, who suffered a severe ankle sprain after 13 minutes of the first half and never returned.

There are many points to be made, and Marist coach Brian Giorgis, who is very nearly as good a spokesman for his program as he is a coach (and, that's saying plenty), made them well.

- "To be able to play with the teams we did this year ... we played with everyone and beat most of them," said Giorgis, in Monday's post-game press conference. "To go in (to Duke) and outplay that team for 38 minutes before we ran out of gas ... We're not Baylor or UConn, but we showed people that we're a damned good basketball team and we almost pulled it out tonight."

- "If you told me that we'd lose Erica Allenspach after she played just 13 minutes and scored just two points ... most people would have thought we'd have gotten blown out by 35 points. If this (Marist) team is not a top 25 team, then I don't know what is."

- "Erica is everything to us. When she went down we were ahead by six and, then, at halftime we were still up by five. I told the kids that she carried us to here and now it's their turn to carry her. And, then, we opened up an 11-point lead. It was incredible to see these kids grow up today before we got worn down at the end and their athleticism took over."

- "We're Hickory (High School), guys. You watch 'Hoosiers' and we're Hickory. Erica Allenspach is Jimmy Chitwood, and she went down."

- "This was one of the best performances our kids have had in any game. To overcome the adversity of losing the straw that stirs our drink and not only stay in the game but extend the lead. We just ran out of gas. But I've never been more proud of a team To take a top 5 team in the country and give them all kinds of fits on their home court with players playing out of position ...

- "Some of us went to a chapel for mass the day before our game, and the priest talked about a mountain top moment. We wanted this to be our mountain top moment. We're a tough little team that almost rocked the women's basketball world. We showed them that we're a tough little team, a tough little team."

If anything, the game provided a glimpse of what could be Marist's future, and it certainly remains very bright.

Marist loses Allenspach, point guard Elise Caron (6 points, 5 assists against Duke) and reserve center Maria Laterza (4 points, 2 rebounds in 10 minutes vs. Duke). The six returning players who appeared in Monday's game scored 55 of the team's points. Junior guard Corielle Yard had 25 points and 12 rebounds and surely stamped herself as a major candidate for Player of the Year in the conference next season.

And, the program also adds the services of 6-1 forward Kristina Danella, who averaged more than 11 points per game as a sophomore at UMass of the Atlantic 10 Conference in the 2009-10 season.

"After the game I told the players to remember this feeling," said Giorgis.

Said Yarde: "I'm excited for next year."

As well the entire Marist team should be.

But, not before it takes some time to reflect on its just-concluded season when it had a mountain top moment and very nearly rocked the women's basketball world.

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